Saturday, October 2, 2010

About an Hour South of the Red River ...

... you'll find tens of thousands of people in Dallas today dressed in Oklahoma red and Texas orange making their way to the big rivalry football game.

This game would have had a lot more appeal if Texas hadn't dropped the ball against UCLA last week. But it does look like the weather will be pleasant for those folks sitting in the stands — and those young men slugging it out on the field.

Still, five games, including OU–Texas, match teams in the Top 25 today so college football fans have a lot to enjoy. Meanwhile, five teams in the Top 25 are idle this week — #6 Nebraska, #13 Utah, #14 Arizona, #15 Arkansas and #19 South Carolina.

All times are Central.

Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman thinks defense will be the key to today's OU–Texas game. But that just seems to be the norm, as far as I am concerned. When I was growing up, the defenses always seemed to be in charge, even in those years when one school had a soon–to–be–named Heisman Trophy winner on its roster.

Sure, there have been some years when the Sooners and the Longhorns lit up the scoreboard, but more often, it seems, there have been scores like last year's 16–13 Texas victory. In fact, while there have been some lopsided scores in the last decade, half the time since 2000 the winning team has had 28 points or less — and many of those times, the winning team didn't even score 20 points.

So anticipating a defensive struggle is not an outlandish thing to do — certainly not in this series.

By the way, today's forecast for Dallas calls for sunny and a light breeze with a high of 85° — still a little warm but not unpleasant, compared to recent temperatures in this area.

Football fans in this part of the country tend to lose sight of the fact that football rules in other parts of the country as well — and the pressure to succeed is great. Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post–Gazette that the pressure level goes up for Penn State when its Big Ten conference schedule begins.

That schedule begins today for the 22nd–ranked Nittany Lions, when they visit #17 Iowa.

  • #7 Florida at #1 Alabama, 7 p.m. on CBS: Things don't get easier for defending national champion Alabama.

    Of course, life is never easy if you're in the SEC. Last week, Alabama survived an improved Arkansas squad, 24–20, on the road. And, this week, the Crimson Tide must host Florida (the team they whipped, 32–13, in last year's SEC championship game), a week after the Gators' freshman quarterback accounted for all six TDs in Florida's win over Kentucky.

    In 2008, Florida prevailed over 'Bama, 31–20, to claim the SEC crown.

    As members of different divisions, the teams face each other occasionally during the regular season. And, today, they resume regular–season play for the first time since 2006.

    The last time they played in Alabama was in 2005, and the Crimson Tide won, 31–3. The following year, when they met in Florida, the Gators won, 28–13.

    You might conclude, based on those scores, that home field is the difference. But home field is not the key to success in this series. Alabama won when it traveled to Florida on this date in 1999, 40–39, then beat Florida a second time in the SEC title game (which has been played in Atlanta for the last 16 years). And the year before, when Florida traveled to Alabama, the Gators won, 16–10.

    That was actually Florida's third straight win over Alabama. The Gators won two straight SEC title games against the Crimson Tide in 1993 and 1994 after losing the inaugural SEC title game in 1992.

    Anyway, with a few exceptions, the last 20 years have belonged to Florida in its series with Alabama. And Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel unabashedly asserts that Florida will win today. "Alabama is overconfident," he concluded after wearing a Florida jersey into a Tuscaloosa eatery that reportedly was a favorite of Bear Bryant's.

    But I'm inclined to think the Gators will struggle without Tim Tebow against the Tide today. Alabama may be a bit banged up after a physical confrontation with Arkansas last week, but I think the Tide will win.

  • #2 Ohio State at Illinois, 11 a.m. on the Big Ten Network: If there is a conclusion to be reached about the Ohio State–Illinois series from the head–to–head meetings in the past, it is this: Ohio State usually wins ... unless Illinois is enjoying a successful season.

    And, at the moment, one could conclude, based on its record so far (2–1), that Illinois is having a good season. But that kinda breaks down when you examine it more closely. Illinois' two wins have come against Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois. The loss came against a Big 12 team, Missouri — and, although Illinois had last week off, the Illini are about to embark on a three–week stretch in which they must face conference foes that are in the Top 25 — Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State,

    The second–ranked team in the nation should be quite a test for the Illini. Too much of test, I think. I'll take Ohio State.

  • #3 Boise State at New Mexico State: Boise State has beaten New Mexico State 11 straight times since 1996.

    Does anyone think that streak is in jeopardy? I didn't think so.

    Neither do I. Boise State should win this one easily.

  • #9 Stanford at #4 Oregon, 7 p.m. on ABC: Until Stanford won a 51–42 shootout at home last year, Oregon had beaten Stanford seven straight times.

    For awhile last Saturday, it looked like Oregon might not be able to put away unranked Arizona State — and and a loss would have prevented this week's game from being arguably the biggest in the series' history. But Oregon rallied and leaped past TCU in the rankings; meanwhile Stanford crushed hapless Notre Dame to set up a Top 10 matchup today.

    But, in spite of the higher ranking, the home field advantage and the winning streak that was alive and well until last season, Oregon should be afraid, very afraid. Mike Lopresti of USA Today thinks Stanford has been the most impressive team in the first month of the season.

    Lopresti says Stanford is "enormously fun to watch" — but I don't think the Cardinal would be enormously fun to face. Stanford is 26 of 26 in the red zone.

    And I think Stanford will win. I'll grant you, it's an upset special. But I don't think last year's outcome was a fluke.

  • #5 TCU at Colorado State, 1 p.m. on The Mtn: All around Dallas last week, I saw yard signs imploring the locals to "Fill the Ford" for the SMU–TCU rivalry game on Friday night.

    I watched part of the game and thought TCU looked uninspired while SMU did look inspired — which is what I would have expected. A win over a Top 10 TCU program would have been an impressive achievement for the SMU program. But the Mustangs ran out of gas.

    And, no, it did not look as if they "filled the Ford." But, as the Dallas Morning News wrote Saturday, SMU is on the right track, and the time will come when a ticket to an SMU game in Gerald Ford Stadium will be the hottest ticket in town.

    But the Mustangs aren't there yet.

    The Horned Frogs are, though. They just need a couple of breaks to get into the national title game. A signature win wouldn't hurt, but they aren't going to get one by beating Colorado State (3–9 last year and 1–3 so far in 2010). TCU lost to Colorado State in 1998, but the Frogs have won their six meetings since. I expect TCU to extend that streak to seven.

  • #8 Oklahoma vs. #21 Texas at Dallas, 2:30 p.m. on ABC: They've taken to calling this the "Red River Rivalry." For a long time, I believe, it was called the "Red River Shootout," but they stopped doing that, perhaps to discourage gun violence.

    I've lived in both states, and I don't think the phrasing of the label for a college rivalry is going to influence gun use in either place.

    I grew up in Arkansas, and we always just called it the OU–Texas game. In those days, the teams didn't play in the same conference, but both were almost always in the Top 10 when they met every October, so the game had national championship implications.

    But you wanna know something? History really means nothing in this series.

    Now, I wouldn't ignore history, especially recent history. Texas trails few of its football series with other schools, and the historical numbers clearly favor the Longhorns against the Sooners. They have 59 wins, Oklahoma has 40, and there have been five ties.

    The Longhorns also have dominated the recent series, winning four of the last five.

    So you might think the numbers favor Texas.

    But all that says is that recent momentum has been with the 'Horns. Over and over and over again in this series, one school has been down for a few years, only to rise up and turn back its nemesis and start a new streak that favors the other team.

    Rarely in the history of the series has one school dominated the other for longer than five years — and, with the exception of a 28–21 loss to the Sooners in 2007, UT has been on top for the last five years.

    That is the one historical trend that makes sense to me. I think the pendulum is swinging in the other direction now, and I think the Longhorns have a lot of problems that only begin with the fact that they're having to break in a freshman quarterback.

    Don't get me wrong. Oklahoma hasn't exactly covered itself with glory. I know that OU struggled to beat Cincinnati last Saturday, but Texas was downright awful in its loss to UCLA.

    Texas has a good defense — when the UT offense isn't asking it to perform miracles — but so does OU. And the Sooners have an offensive line, which Texas really doesn't. So, all things considered, I have to pick Oklahoma.

  • Louisiana–Monroe at #10 Auburn, 11 a.m. on ESPNU: This will be the eighth time the teams have faced each other since 1994.

    Auburn has won the previous seven meetings. Sometimes Louisiana–Monroe hasn't even scored.

    I expect no less today. Auburn should win handily.

  • #11 Wisconsin at #24 Michigan State, 2:30 p.m. on ABC: Here's an interesting trend.

    These teams don't face each other every year, but the last five times they have met, the home team has emerged with the victory.

    However, the last time the home team didn't win was in 2002 — when Michigan State was the host.

    Shannon Shelton of the Detroit Free–Press writes that this game is the first big test that Michigan State has faced this year. In a sense, that is true of both teams. Neither has faced a high–caliber foe so far.

    But it seems to me that Michigan State may have more to prove. Wisconsin's football reputation (eight straight bowl appearances and 13 bowls in the last 14 years) seems to be well established. Michigan State has been to bowls for three straight years now, but the Spartans have been more sporadic.

    I think this may be like that '02 game. The score may be closer (the Badgers won that game by 18 points), but I'll go with Wisconsin.

  • Tennessee at #12 LSU, 2:30 p.m. on CBS: The last time these schools faced each other was for the SEC championship in 2007. LSU won, 21–14, and went on to beat Ohio State for the national title.

    Prior to that, they played 10 times in 30 years, with Tennessee winning most of the time, 6–3–1.

    But times have changed, and LSU enters this game with a more solid program — as well as the home field advantage.

    I think LSU will win today.

  • #16 Miami (Florida) at Clemson, 11 a.m. on ESPN2: The schools haven't been in the same conference very long, and they compete in different divisions so they don't play every year.

    In face, they have only played three times, and the visiting team has won every time.

    Works for me. I'll take Miami.

  • #22 Penn State at #17 Iowa, 7 p.m. on ESPN: Penn State has beaten Iowa only five times in 13 meetings since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten, and three of those wins came right out of the gate.

    So, Iowa has dominated the series, 8–2, since then. But one of those wins came at Iowa (in 1999), and the bad news for Penn State was that Iowa won only one game that year.

    Iowa has won the last three encounters at home, and I expect that trend to continue.

  • Washington at #18 USC, 7 p.m. on ABC: Washington snapped a seven–year losing streak to USC last season with a 16–13 triumph.

    But winning in Trojan Country is something the Huskies haven't done in their last three visits, and I don't think that will change today. I'll take USC.

  • #20 Michigan at Indiana, 2:30 p.m. on ESPNU: These two teams don't face each other every year, but, in good seasons or bad, Michigan has beaten Indiana the last 16 times they have met.

    Indiana's last win over Michigan came in 1987, when the Hoosiers won at home, 14–10. The Wolverines won 15 in a row against Indiana prior to that.

    Anyway, as I have written before, I'm not sure if Michigan is back as a football power. And I don't really think we will find out when the Wolverines take the field against the Hoosiers today. Michigan should improve to 5–0, and we will start finding out whether Michigan is really back when the Wolverines face Michigan State next week.

  • Virginia Tech at #23 North Carolina State, 2:30 p.m. on ABC: After beating Georgia Tech, North Carolina State finds itself in the Top 25 — and, I must concede, the Wolfpack deserves to be there.

    It has to make you wonder what might have been if Virginia Tech hadn't lost to James Madison.

    They've only been in the same conference for a brief time, and they play in separate divisions so they don't face each other every year. Since 1989, they have played seven times, and North Carolina State has won only once — 7–0 at home in 1991.

    If not for the JMU loss, I might be tempted to pick Tech in this one. But I'm just not sold on the Hokies so I'll take North Carolina State.

  • #25 Nevada at UNLV, 9 p.m. on The Mtn.: Nevada has gone 12–6 against UNLV since 1992.

    In all those years, neither team has won more than five in a row against the other. And Nevada has beaten UNLV the last five times they have faced each other. But I think Nevada will make it six in a row.

    After all, the Wolf Pack is ranked for the first time since Truman was president. And they're on TV.

Last week: 19–2

Season: 78–8

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